Images circulating on social media showed forests in south Lebanon’s areas of Jezzine, Nabatieh and Tyre engulfed in flames. In Tyre, UNIFIL helicopters were deployed to extinguish the fires as they edged toward residents’ homes.
While the fires have primarily caused material damage, several volunteers were reported suffocating in Tyre’s Qana village, according to a statement from the state-run National News Agency. Two civilians and one firefighter were wounded by an undetonated mine that caught fire and exploded in the southern village of Aita al-Shaab. One civilian and one firefighter were moderately wounded while the other civilian sustained light injuries.
“The fire index, according to the early warning system of the Chouf Cedar Reserve, indicates a continued high risk of fire outbreak. Please be careful and be responsible, and in accordance with the law, do not set fire near the trees for any reason,” The Chouf Biosphere Reserve warned on Twitter.
Almost a year earlier, Lebanon witnessed devastating forest fires that ravaged the country’s mountains and caused irreparable damage to forests that could take upward of 20 or 30 years to undo. Temperatures recorded at the time were at least 3 to 4 degrees higher than the maximum average temperatures in October over the past 150 years.
Compared to last year, however, the average temperature has been in its normal range of 35 degrees Celsius, a source from the Meteorology Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport told The Daily Star.
The cause of wildfires is most likely due to human activity in these areas, exacerbated by high temperatures and low humidity levels typically witnessed this time of year, according to the Meteorology Department.
Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic crisis since the Civil War which has forced many who lost their jobs in the city to migrate to rural areas, increasing human activity in these regions.
The country loses an average of 1,200 to 1,500 hectares of forest (12-15 square kilometers) a year from wildfires, and several hundred more from urbanization.